Patriots Match-Up Mania: The Replacements, Continued…

Gronk has been cleared to play.

Bill Belichick’s post-game press conferences seldom yield any valuable information. It’s an annoying trend as Belichick possesses and can share significant insights into the sport he has a mastery of.

As the injury-riddled New England Patriots prepare to face the New York Jets at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Belichick inadvertently revealed his thoughts on all of the new players being worked into the team’s regular rotation with a seemingly innocuous comment to CSNNE.com’s Mary Paoletti. Bill was specifically replying to a question on newcomer Austin Collie and observed:

I mean, they’re never 100 percent ready. But there’s a difference between being ready and when you put the person in there and feel like, well there’s just too many things that can and probably will go wrong because they’re just not prepared enough for those…It’s certainly a very individualized type of call and I don’t think there’s any book on that. You just have to try to figure it out the best you can.

I’m focused on the “never 100 percent ready” comment, and I’m expanding the context of it beyond new players – veterans and rookies, alike – to injured veterans returning to the field and reserves switching roles to account for injuries, and starters changing positions. With the many injuries sapping the Patriots depth through six games, the concept of new players is at a premium in Foxboro.

Yes, Rob Gronkowski is available, or “cleared” by some doctor. Will he play? Who knows? Say he plays. What do we get? A fully Gronk’ed Gronk, or a timid, nervous Gronk who really isn’t ready but needs to see some action? Is he even in game shape after reportedly dominating practices? He has had success versus the Jets. Who hasn’t?

Collie made two key grabs in the Saints win. Kenbrell Thompkins isn’t really a replacement at all. However, he seems to be getting it now – finally. Did he “figure it out” in time to make his mark?

The real replacement match-ups to focus on are on the defense that could be without the squad’s top three players. Vince Wilfork we know about. Ditto for Jerod Mayo. Aqib Talib didn’t travel to New Jersey with the team. How do you fill those three holes?

McCourty could be playing corner at some point, too. But, he and Ninkovich taking a more pronounced role as captains is a significant match-up type issue. Players like Dane Fletcher, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, and draftees Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan need to take advantage of bigger roles due to injuries.

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